BOURBONNAIS — Olivet Nazarene University has reported its count of positive COVID-19 cases among students declined by more than half since additional mitigation measures were enforced last week.
The university is reporting 15 active positive student cases, including 10 students isolating on campus and five isolating off campus, as of Wednesday. There are 2,525 traditional undergraduate students at the Bourbonnais campus.
Starting Oct. 5, the university imposed a seven-day period of new restrictions in response to a spike in cases that peaked at 41 a couple of weeks ago.
Prior to the spike, the university had maintained zero to two cases per week for a little over a month.
Vice President David Pickering said the temporary restrictions have been extended for another seven days to continue bringing the number of cases down.
“We’re going to do our utmost to have the fewest number of cases as possible, and when we have cases, to treat them as quickly as possible,” he said. “But I think as long as COVID is in Illinois, we’re going to have COVID likely come on campus, because students do come and go.”
Restrictions include that students are not allowed to host visitors in their dorms or apartments, with lobbies and common areas in student housing remaining closed.
Additionally, campus activities are limited to events with 25 people or fewer and social distancing in place. Campus events are being held virtually when possible.
“Basically, socialization would happen outside of the dorm,” Pickering explained. “So I could go sit outside at a table with somebody; I could be in public places on campus.”
The idea is to limit the number of people gathering in small spaces so that close contacts are minimal when positive cases occur, he said.
“We’ve encouraged students to think small, meaning hanging out with a small number of people, not a large number of people,” Pickering said.
Seating in dining areas has also been reduced by roughly 70 percent, with students encouraged to carry out meals and eat in outdoor seating areas and tents on campus. Students in isolation have meals delivered to their dorms.
Pickering said students who blatantly disregard the rules may face a fine or suspension, but so far that has not been a problem.
“We really have had super strong support from students,” he said. “They want to be here, so they are doing the right things to make sure that happens.”
Classes are continuing as normal, with 6 feet of social distance between chairs and masks required.
Pickering said the university started testing more students, including students participating in athletics, before the spike occurred. The additional testing identified some asymptomatic cases that would have otherwise gone under the radar.
“What caused [the spike] is, you have a few people who get it from somewhere — more than likely off campus, because we had zero cases for a number of weeks — then, they live in community and spread it from being close to one another.”
Pickering said the university received rapid testing equipment this week that will be used for continued testing on campus. The equipment was scheduled to arrive over the summer, but it was being utilized by the Department of Homeland Security.
Students typically have been getting tested at local hospitals.
“Students have done an outstanding job at following all the protocols that the university has in place, and I think they are all committed to doing what is necessary to have a great semester,” Pickering said.